Although it looks funny in action, the ejector seat has saved thousands of lives since its invention in the middle of the 20th century.
Supersonic Seats. An ejector seat is designed to catapult the pilot and crew out of a plane in an emergency, inflate a parachute once the seat is clear of the aircraft, and bring them safely to land.
Before ejector seats were invented there were parachutes but the crew would have to try and jump clear of the aircraft first, which can be a bit tricky when a plane’s plummeting to earth at hundreds of kilometres per hour.
The Second World War created an obvious need for this invention. The first ejector seat was pioneered by the German company Heinkel in 1940, and the Swedish company SAAB developed its own ejector seat independently the following year. Both used compressed air to shoot the seats out of the aircraft. In 1942 one of the German test pilots became the first person to escape from a plane using an ejector seat in an emergency.
After the war, some planes became so fast that it was impossible to escape from them using just a parachute. After the early compressed-air ejector seats, explosive charges were used to power the seats. And from the 1960s, rocket-powered ejector seats were made for use at supersonic speeds. A few pilots have ejected at speeds over 1,300 km/h!
By the seat of your pants: Ejector seats save thousands of lives but they are designed for use in dire emergencies only. The seats shoot out of the plane with such force that they can cause serious, sometimes career-ending injuries.
In fewer than seventy years the history of aviation went from nothing to putting a man on the Moon. Take a look at the types of aviation below: which have you flown in or seen? Hopefully you’ll never have to use the ejector seat in any of these!
Out of all the aircraft it is possible to travel in, you’ll probably have travelled most in a jumbo jet. How many flights in a jumbo jet have you made?
Have you ever flown in this type of flying vehicle? After a jumbo jet, the vehicles in this group are the easiest to hitch a ride in. It’s doubtful that you’ll ever get to fly in any of the following aircraft, but have you seen them in action?